Bovine TB and its impact on human mental health - FUW looks for answers

Life on farm has never been easy. Farmers accept and choose the long hours, hard work and have a strong desire to keep animals healthy and well. 

Complying with the highest animal health and welfare standards is at the top of their agenda and if their animals aren’t in good health they won’t leave a stone unturned to see them fit and well again soon. After all, healthy animals make for a healthy business. But what happens to our farmers when they are not well? 

What is the emotional toll on them if their animals are sick or a whole herd comes down with bovine TB? Whilst a vet will be called to see to a sick cow, many farmers will not let their own feelings filter past the farmgate.

And the number of farmers who are suffering from the stress and heart ache is likely to be frighteningly high, given that, according to Defra’s latest bovine TB statistics (12 months up to the end of March 2019),  the total number of animals slaughtered was 11662; herds under movement restrictions were 1002; total cattle tests carried out were 2,107,970 and there have been 730 new incidents. 

To address the problem and discuss how bovine TB is affecting farmers mentally, the FUW is hosting a special seminar at the Royal Welsh Show - entitled ‘What impacts do TB breakdowns have on mental health?’, the Union looks forward to welcoming Ceredigion MP Ben Lake, Gareth Davies from farming charity Tir Dewi, Emma Picton-Jones from rural charity the DPJ Foundation, Charles Smith from farming charity Farm Community Network and Linda Jones from the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institute to the discussion panel.

The seminar starts at 11am on Monday (July 22) and is chaired by FUW Senior Policy Officer Dr Hazel Wright.

Looking forward to the seminar, Dr Wright said: “ The FUW has recently called on the Welsh Government to establish a Wales Bovine TB Economics Task and Finish Group to provide robust, Welsh specific information on the financial impact of a TB breakdown and the subsequent mental health impacts on farmers. 

“In this seminar we will discuss the relationship between mental health issues and economic pressures on farmers following a TB outbreak to ensure that farmers are receiving enough support.”

Worried about the families who have to deal with continuing bovine TB breakdowns, Ceredigion MP Ben Lake said: "While the debate about the efficacy of the Government's Bovine TB eradication policy and testing regime continues, little thought is given about the families who find themselves caught in the middle of it all, having to deal with the terrible consequences of a reactor or breakdown.

"The emotional and economic impact of Bovine TB on a family is huge, and decisive action is sorely needed to bring the disease under control. Furthermore, greater consideration should be given as to how policy can be more empathetic towards farmers, following a Bovine TB breakdown but also during the testing regime. 

"I look forward to contributing to the panel discussion on Bovine TB and mental health and I’d like to thank the FUW for providing the opportunity for this important conversation to take place at the Royal Welsh Show."

Gareth Davies from Tir Dewi, said: “TB breaks farmers hearts; it culls their business as well as their cattle.  Farmers cannot see an end to this disease which has a devastating effect on years of hard work, breeding great pedigree family lines to suit their business and their farm.  Any vision and hope for the future needs to see Government, Farming Industry and Unions working together as all need to be involved in finding and delivering a solution.”

Speaking ahead of the seminar Emma Picton- Jones, DPJ Foundation, said: “ It is fantastic that for a third year in a row mental health is taking a prominent place on the agenda. Having grown up on a dairy farm I have seen first hand the devastation TB can cause and as a charity we are hearing more and more cases of people overwhelmed by the pressure that a TB diagnosis has on their mental health and general well being. This is a great opportunity to put this at the forefront of people’s minds and get the sector considering the implications of this awful epidemic.”

Charles Smith, FCN, said: “When a farm is hit by bovine TB, it is not just the livestock that suffers. The impact that bovine TB has on the farming family can be devastating. Approximately one-third of FCN cases are related to bovine TB and the knock-on effect that the disease creates. Our volunteers regularly encounter farming families experiencing immense financial hardship due to no longer being able to sell the livestock that they tend to. Some have been forced to drastically alter their businesses as a result.

“Many farmers also suffer with both their mental and physical health. They could be anxious about a forthcoming inspection, stressed about the increased workload that comes with testing or depressed about seeing their livestock being put down. This can even lead to a breakdown in family relationships and poor mental wellbeing amongst family members. It is little wonder that so many farmers affected by bovine TB look to leave the industry or, worse still, try and take their own life as they see no alternative.

“FCN’s volunteers are on hand to support anyone affected by bovine TB. Many of our volunteers are involved with livestock farming or have close links to agriculture and therefore have a great understanding of the issues surrounding bovine TB. We can work with farmers to reduce the impact of bovine TB. We can try and help with cash flow issues, support those struggling emotionally and provide practical business and farming support.  Furthermore, we are completely non-judgmental in our work and all cases are treated with complete confidentiality.”

Linda Jones, RABI, said: “We know from the calls we receive at R.A.B.I from affected farmers how devastating financially and emotionally dealing with bovine TB can be,” says Linda Jones, R.A.B.I’s Regional Manager for Wales,“We received 10 calls within the last year from Wales noting that TB breakdown was one of the reasons people telephoned our helpline to ask for help.”